It’s been nearly 40 years since Barry Clifford found the wreckage of an 18th-century pirate ship off the coast of Cape Cod. But the Whydah Gally, a cargo and former slave ship seized by the infamous pirate Black Sam Bellamy just months before it sank, still has many secrets to reveal.
On one recent weekend, Clifford hosted a small group of kids at West Yarmouth’s Whydah Pirate Museum as his colleague poked at a lump of hardened rock and sediment hauled up from the shipwreck in 2016.
Archeologist Andrew Barker quickly found that the matter, known scientifically as a concretion, held coins from Peru, gold and possibly gemstones.
“I swear they were coming unglued,” Clifford said of the children watching the discovery. “Their eyeballs were popping out of their head.”
More secrets could be revealed as early as Tuesday, when Clifford will be back at work examining the concretion. Clifford and his team have been excavating the wreckage of the famed pirate ship since he found it off Wellfleet in 1984, and they have recovered more than 180,000 artifacts.
“The pirate treasure for me now is watching the kids,” Clifford said, though he has also found rarities including cannons and even a human skeleton.
At one point, in 2018, they ran DNA tests on the skeleton’s femur, thinking that it may have belonged to the ship’s captain, Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy. But DNA tests later confirmed that the bone did not belong to the famed pirate, Clifford said.
There are about 300 concretions in the laboratory that have yet to be opened, including one that weighs about 13,000 pounds, Clifford said. Although they have recovered enough material to fill a museum, Clifford said that there is still a lot left to pull from the ocean floor.
“We’ve brought up less than 10 percent of what’s supposed to be on the ship,” Clifford said.
Bellamy captured the Whydah in early 1717. The ship was said to have had four and a half tons of gold and silver on board, and Bellamy was believed to have been the world’s richest pirate, with a fortune worth an estimated $120 million in modern dollars.
Bellamy didn’t captain the ship for long, though, as it sank on the evening of April 26, 1717 and became part of Cape Cod legend, according to the National Park Service.
During his career, Bellamy, who fashioned himself as the ‘Robin Hood of the Sea,’ captured more than 50 ships, according to the New England Historical Society. He was only 28 when the ship sank
Before beginning his career of pillage and plunder, Bellamy first sailed to Cape Cod in 1714 or early 1715. There, he met and impregnated 15-year-old Maria Hallett, according to the New England Historical Society. He then traveled to Florida in search of treasure and then turned to piracy, the society said.
He may have been returning to the Cape to see Hallett when his ship sank, killing all but two of the 142 men on board, according to the society. Hallett went on to become a Cape Cod legend of her own after she gave birth to Bellamy’s baby, who apparently died at birth.
“According to local lore, she lost her mind or withdrew from society and moved to a shack in Wellfleet,” the New England Historical Society said. “People called her ‘Goody Hallett’ or ‘The Witch of Wellfleet.’ Today a meadow in Wellfleet is known as Goody Hallett Meadow.”
Clifford said he grew up hearing stories about Bellamy and the Whydah from his uncle.
“It was this legend that every Cape Cod family knew about,” Clifford said.
Adam Sennott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.